Unbeknownst to most consumers, some of the chocolate they buy will have partly been the product of slavery and child labour in West Africa. West Africa was responsible for nearly three quarters of the 4.24 million tonnes cocoa beans produced worldwide last year – the Ivory Coast alone produced roughly 1.5 million tonnes, or one third of the world’s production, while Ghana produced over 1 million tonnes. According to some research, these two countries also rely on around 1.8 million child labourers.
Regarding the Ivory Coast, some have claimed that 90% of cocoa farms use child labour, while the US Department of State estimates that over 100,000 children work under “the worst forms of child labour” on Ivorian farms. Around 15,000 children are thought to be forced to work as slaves in the Ivory Coast, and 10,000 are believed to be victims of human trafficking, largely from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso.
But this is not just an Ivorian or even a West African issue. The global scope of the problem becomes apparent when one considers that it is not just West African governments and farmers who are involved in the trade chain, but also chocolate manufacturers, supermarkets and finally consumers.
All the countries mentioned have signed the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which holds that children have inalienable rights, and obligates states to promote, guarantee and respect the rights of children against violence, exploitation and hazardous work or work that interferes with their education. But the practical application of the convention is a challenge as many cocoa farms are located in remote areas and are difficult for the authorities to access.
Furthermore, underlying some farmers’ decisions to replace paid labour with unpaid forced child labour are economic factors such as unstable cocoa bean prices. Moreover, children are sometimes sent away by their own parents in the expectation that they will not only be able to provide financial support for their families, but also acquire practical skills valuable for a future career.